Ana E. Juncos and Gilberto Algar-Faria

31 January 2018

This month we are pleased to announce the launch of Resilient Peace, a year-long exploratory project led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Worldwide Universities Network’s Research Development Fund.


International interventions have succeeded in establishing a ‘negative peace’—that is, the cessation of warfighting only (Galtung 1969). Yet, achieving ‘positive peace’, whereby violence and discrimination are replaced by social justice for all, has proved more challenging. In this vein, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 seeks to ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ (UN 2017). However, SDG 16’s targets, as well as international legal discourses generally, are overwhelmingly typical of negative peace. This project will establish a network of experts, combining general expertise on peacebuilding interventions with the additional geographical focus on West Africa, to begin an exploratory process of identifying pathways to positive sustainable peace over and above SDG 16’s indicators. It will do so by investigating the transformation of peacebuilding and its impact on local level initiatives in West Africa.

Limitations of peacebuilding

Despite significant international efforts to build peace in West African states (Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone), international peacebuilding attempts have had limited success. International actors such as the EU and the UN have often duplicated efforts and/or spent significant amounts of money to run programmes that are not locally applicable. In other words, their initiatives have been ineffective at promoting sustainable peace at best or have served paradoxically to perpetuate conflict at worst. In the face of the failure of past international interventions and ever-decreasing international aid budgets, international actors are transforming their interventions, moving towards a new resilience approach to peacebuilding (see Chandler 2014; Chandler and Reid 2016; Joseph 2013). This new approach to peacebuilding is increasingly present in the policy documents of international organisations engaging in peacebuilding activities. For example, both the EU Global Strategy and the new ‘EU Joint Communication on Resilience’ identify building resilience as one of the key priorities for the EU’s external action (European Commission and High Representative 2017; Juncos 2017). In practice, this shift to resilience has translated into fewer resources to local aid organisations and the subcontracting of their service delivery to locals. These local civil society actors, in turn, are put at significantly higher levels of risk to their personal security than their international counterparts are, under such labels as ‘pragmatic’ peacebuilding (Goetschel 2011).

Previous research

Scholarship on this phenomenon has focused on the diffusion of resilience approaches at the international level as a form of neoliberal governmentality—a method of ensuring that countries conform with the model of the advanced liberal democracy and free markets—and has considered resilience to be an indication of the exhaustion of international actors engaging in peacebuilding activities (Chandler 2014; Joseph 2013). However, less attention has been paid to the effects this new approach has had on the ground, particularly how resilience discourses might be adopted, adapted or resisted by civil society actors. To address this gap in the literature, this interdisciplinary research project will draw on novel insights from International Relations, Organisational Theory, Sociology and Social Policy regarding organisational learning, decoupling, policy transfer and translation (Argyris and Schön 1978; Lendvai and Stubbs 2007; Meyer and Rowan 1977; Sahlin and Wedlin 2008). This project will also build on and further develop ideas of post-liberal peace—the idea that local populations adapt external peacebuilding efforts for their own ends (Richmond 2010)—and hybrid peace—the concept of peace as one formed by local and international actors alike (Mac Ginty 2011)—by reframing the exhaustion of the peacebuilding project as transformation. Doing so will assist academics and policy-makers to better understand what they are observing as Western actors increasingly opt to engage remotely, and will highlight the impact peacebuilding has had on local actors in the context of West African states.

Resilient Peace

The aim of this project is to consolidate and to extend the expertise of its partner organisations by including other key individuals and institutions, who together, yet from different perspectives, can shed light on this issue in the context of West Africa. Through a series of three workshops throughout 2018, we will bring together leading experts from world-class academic institutions to establish a hub of expertise addressing how to achieve and exceed the aims of SDG 16 in West Africa. This is a generalised continuum of problems and solutions, and one that requires expertise from multidisciplinary and multinational approaches. The insights from this project will contribute to a better understanding of why resilience approaches in peacebuilding either fail or succeed, notably by examining how such approaches are received at the local level. Elaborating on this perspective, the series of workshops within this project will define concrete policy objectives for complying with, and exceeding the indicators of SDG 16 in the context of an increasingly uncertain global economy and political environment. The workshops will bring together academics and key stakeholders (local policy-makers and civil society actors) to proactively co-produce research objectives for future grant applications.

Anticipated outputs

It is anticipated that this project will produce

  1. A strategy to develop complementary funding bids on addressing SDG 16 and promoting sustainable peace, including the ESRC’s GCRF, the EU’s H2020 and calls from other funding bodies at the national and regional levels.
  2. A literature review will be produced and this will be used to inform future collaborations, conference presentations and funding applications.
  3. A journal review article will be produced documenting current trends on resilience and peacebuilding and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in 2018 under Open Access. During the workshops, we will explore the possibility of developing a Special Issue and other joint peer-reviewed publications in high ranking journals.
  4. A series of policy briefings and blog articles will be produced. Policy-makers will gain a greater understanding of how to develop policy and direct funds for peacebuilding in the future.

Image details

Title photo caption: Aerial view of United Nations Staff in Geneva simulating the Sustainable Development Goals logo on UN Staff Day.

Title photo credit: UN Photo/Emmanuel Hungrecker

About the Authors

Dr Ana E. Juncos

Dr Ana E. Juncos is the Principal Investigator and Consortium Consortium Coordinator for Resilient Peace. She is a Reader in European Politics at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol, and the Principal Investigator of the Horizon 2020 project EU-CIVCAP.

Dr Gilberto Algar-Faria

Dr Gilberto Algar-Faria is the Co-Investigator and Consortium Manager for Resilient Peace, and a Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. He is also the Project Officer for the Horizon 2020 project EU-CIVCAP.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.